Oil & Water: Petroculture & the Blue Humanities in Conversation

deadline for submissions: 
October 11, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
NEMLA 2021
contact email: 


Signs of the prominence of oil as an object of study in the Environmental Humanities abound: the increasing circulation of terms like “Petroculture” and “petrocapital,” the emergence of the Energy Humanities as a sub-field, and the nearly simultaneous publication of recent volumes such as Living Oil (2016); Petrocultures (2017); and Energy Humanities: An Anthology (2017). Scholars in a range of disciplines are working to theorize and bring into focus the myriad economic, environmental, social, and imaginative ramifications of our relationship with—and dependence on—oil.

This panel invites participants to contribute to this conversation by exploring the relationship between oil and what David Orr has termed another “liquid to which we…are beholden”: water. In his 2004 essay “Reflections on Water & Oil,” Orr offers a provocative conception of the relationship between these two substances, a relationship that hinges on a stark contrast: “Water makes life possible, while oil is toxic to most life. Water in its pure state is clear; oil is dark.” Orr even argues that “Oil and water have had contrary effects on our minds”: water inspires and heals; oil deadens the imagination and made us “dumber.”

We invite participants to engage with these provocations by offering readings of the relationship between oil and water. How do we read, re-read, or re-imagine this conceptual opposition? How might thinking in terms of oil and water enrich and enliven discourses of environmentalism? Where are writers and artists leading us in terms of imagining or re-configuring this relationship? What might thinking with/through oil and water help us make visible? What might such thinking occlude? These are just a few of the questions our panel might consider. We welcome submissions from a range of critical and theoretical approaches. Perspectives addressing these questions in the Global South are especially welcome.


Submissions accepted here: https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/18502